Finding art in Edinburgh


There is so much on in Edinburgh in the summer that you have to be very selective. In addition to keeping up with friends and getting things done in the flat, we did manage to get out to a couple of exhibitions. I have been familiar with some of Bridget Riley’s work for a long time but the Scottish National Gallery has now got one of the largest collections of her work on display. It showcases the development of her work from life drawings done at art school, pointillism and some copies of Impressionist works. There are some preliminary drawings for paintings and rooms displaying the OP Art black and white and colour works that she is best known for. She painted her first abstract work in 1961. Her monochrome painting ‘Movement in Squares’

reminded me of a perspective study I had to do at school and still have on my monochrome wall in Edinburgh.

Others are very colourful. The large size of many of her works means that she has used assistants since the 1960s but mixes all the colours herself.

The other exhibtion I managed to get to was ‘Weird Plants’ by Chris Thorogood which is on at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. He describes himself as being fascinated by plants since childhood and finding was of illustrating them. The works in this exhibition were mostly oils. I was particularly interested in his painting of Ravenala madagascariensis or the Traveller’s Palm:

The reason it evolved blue seeds is that Madagascar has very few fruit and seed-eating birds which are hard-wired to prefer red, orange and yellow fruits in that order. Lemurs however, can only distinguish visually between shades of green and blue. They are attracted there fore to the seeds and aid in their dispersal. We have a trip to Madagascar planned for October so I will look out for the seeds. There is an exhibition of collage at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which I must see on another trip. It is on until October so I should have no problem fitting that in.

Round Britain: Nairn to Inverness


After the morning rush on the A96, we left Delnies Wood and returned to the coast near Ardesier, a former fishing village. On the other side of the promontory is a platform construction yard for the oil industry. The tip of the promontory is occupied by Fort George. Construction began in 1746 after the Jacobite rebellion to aid in the government suppression of them. It is still a forces base. In late 1984 when I was working in Inverness, a friend in the army brought a platoon of Gurkhas for tea. The fort took 22 years to complete and it is more than 1km in circumference. It is now the home of the Black Watch.

We were told that the entrance doors were original

and that the bridge we walked over was once a drawbridge.

There are views over to Chanonry Point from the ramparts. We hope to explore it more closely when we continue our coastal journey in September and cross over to the Black Isle.

The fort contains the Highlanders Regimental Museum and a magazine whose 2,672 barrels contained gun powder, not whisky.

There was a small photographic exhibition ‘Scotland from the Air’ with photographs taken between the early 20th century

and the last couple of years.

Aerial photography started with crews taking shots for military planning. The RAF have 750,000 photographs of Scotland. Aerial surveys have been carried out in Scotland since 1976. Many were used in a TV programme ‘Scotland From the Sky’. The Historic Environment Scotland’s archives of more than 1.6 million photographs can be accessed via the following websites:
http://www.Canmore.org.uk and http://www.ncap.org.uk

On the way back along the old military road to rejoin the A96 into Inverness, we passed Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC training in Ardesier. There was a shop, so James popped in to get a newspaper. He was offered a free copy of the Sun which he declined. The woman in the shop had never heard of the boycott of paper in Liverpool after it published inaccurate accusations about Liverpool FC fans at Hillsborough in 1989. They were accused of being drunk and urinating on and assaulting emergency workers; and pick-pocketing the dead bodies, all of which was unsubstantiated. The A96 passes Inverness Airport and Culloden. We had to get an oil change done on the van before heading to our campsite.

Situated close to the river Ness, there were riverside walks into town via Ness Islands or along the northern bank. In the evening we stuck to the south bank and met some friends for dinner.

In the morning we walked along the north bank and passed one of several statues in an Oor Wullie series. This one was based on Scottish flora.

I had a look in Inverness Cathedral. It is the most northern Anglican Cathedral in the UK and the first stone was laid in 1866 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury. From the reformation the Episcopal church was proscribed and clergy were imprisoned for carrying out public worship. This was the first time an archbishop had performed any actions in the city since then. The cathedral was completed in 1869. I was unable to spend any quiet time in there as shortly after we entered, two bus loads of tourists marched in.

Crossing the river to the south side and city centre, we passed a man with a Liverpool FC shirt on. I asked him if he was from Liverpool and he said no, the United States and proceeded to show me his Donald Trump socks! The City Museum and Art Gallery has been created out of part of an old shopping centre next to the castle. In the art gallery section upstairs was an exhibition on immigration which aims to promote dialogue and understanding. I had seen it in Edinburgh beforehand but there were some newer items.

There was also a small exhibition based on a collaboration between makers in Scotland and Iceland in 2017 and 2018 with some of the Scottish makers displaying work done subsequently. We had seen some of the Icelandic work when we were there in early 2017.

The last time we were at Inverness Castle was in 2010 when we had completed walking the Great Glen Way from Fort William.

We had lunch with a friend and then walked back to the Botanic Garden near our campsite. I was inspired to do more with my cacti, succulents and orchids.

We were happy to leave before the weekend as the park next to the campsite was gearing up for the European Pipe Band Championship. We headed off down the A9 where I notice lots of garden escapees on the roadside near Kingussie: lupins. Further on we popped into Pitlochry for a coffee. Green Park Hotel before the town with great views of Loch Faskally and sculptures in the garden did not have a café but gave us some free coffees.


So far, our mileage for this leg is 196 bringing the total to 534. We will not continue round the coast in July and August as it is very busy especially since the North Coast 500 was created. We have other trips planned and will return to the coast route in September.

Round Britain: exploring Spey Bay


Ever since we walked the Speyside Way in 2012, I have wanted to return and explore Spey Bay more. The campsite here is run by the local golf club. The last time we saw it there was nothing between it and the sea but there are now several new houses between the golf course and the beach with another section yet to be completed. This may have been where the old hotel was situated. In World War II troops were based in the Richmond and Gordon Hotel here and an airfield was built nearby at Nether Dallachy. The hotel burnt down in 1965 and a replacement was built but is no longer here. Spey Bay has Scotland’s largest shingle beach. It is situated on the eastern side of the estuary opposite Kingston on the west. We arrived late afternoon and the after the showers ceased, had a wander on the beach.


Later I returned to see the Summer Solstice sunset.


On most other beaches there are notices asking you not to remove stones but there are none here and in the morning, I saw some people filling large shopping bags.

You can sometimes see Bottlenose Dolphins and whales offshore but today all I could see were birds. At least the crazes for padlocks on bridges and stacking rocks does not seem to have made it here yet. Salmon fishing has probably carried out on the River Spey since prehistoric times. In 1768 a fishing station was built at Tugnet but all that remains are the ice-houses built in 1830, the largest surviving in the UK. Only a third is visible above ground.

The fish were stored here before being shipped out. The last salmon was landed in 1991 and the nearby building is now the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society’s Scottish Dolphin Centre. A local high school project begun in 1988 and completed in 1991 with sponsorship and assistance from local sculptors and stone masons created a number of mosaics and some sculptures.

Across the river is a nature reserve. We saw a heron, swans and various ducks from the opposite bank.

We walked down the section of the Speyside Way to the viaduct (another remnant of the Beeching cuts) and into Garmouth on the other bank.


The Speyside Coffee Roasting Company is based in the local hotel – they roast the Brazilian beans and grind as required. It certainly tasted good and I bought some to take home. We also spotted an information board for the circular 95-mile Moray Way. It is comprised of some of the Speyside Way, the Moray Coast Trail and the Deva Way. It might be on for us to do at some point. As we turned to return to the campsite it was getting more overcast.

Journeys into the past


My grandmother seemed to decide that I was to be the family archivist in the 1970s. She gave me a large number of photographs, letters from the First World War front that two of my great-great uncles fought in and letters from a relative in the USA to my great grandmother. Her father came from Ireland. A cousin had done some work on part of the family tree and this was passed onto me. Over the years I filled in many of the gaps and with the help of relatives, and the ever-increasing availability of information on the internet, now have got back as far as 1588 with the exception of the Irish relatives. James is from Northern Ireland so on a recent trip to visit his family we decided to delve further into his family tree as we had relatively little information. The major problem with Irish records is that so many public records were destroyed in the 1916 Easter Uprising. Volunteers have been digitising church register information and other information is already online. Our first step was talking to relatives, finding out if there was a family bible which often had names and dates of birth of all family members (there was not one) and then visiting the various graveyards where we were told some ancestors were buried.

In total we visited four and on the next rainy day I will start to plot out the tree and double-check what we have.

Mountstewart is an estate that used to be the home of the Marquess of Londonderry but is now under the care of the National Trust. We had been there previously so had a quick look at the house and devoted the rest of our time to the garden. Our last visit was late summer so this time it was good to see tulips and Tree Peonies blooming.


A range of animal sculptures sit along the top of the garden wall. This pig is one of them.

Across the road there are views across Strangford Lough.

On our last day we decided to pay a visit to Derry, a city neither of us had visited previously. The 400-year-old city walls stand up to eight metres high and are almost one mile around, making them the most complete city walls in Ireland.

The station is across the Foyle river from the walled city but there is a free bus link to the bus station which is near the shopping centre. We began our walk on the walls at New Gate which is near a bastion containing cannons.

Ferryquay Gate is one of the original four gates and led down to a ferry which used to cross the river. The Guildhall is nearby.

St Columbs Cathedral was built in 1633, one of the first after the Reformation and the oldest building in the city.

St. Augustine’s Church is known as ‘The Wee Church’ and was built on the site of an abbey which St Columba constructed around 543AD before sailing over to Iona in 563AD. It has been rebuilt a number of times until the last in 1872.

There are views all around: over to the Bogside

…and to St Eugene’s Cathedral

We spotted a bookshop near the Craft Village.

Foyle Books is run by a retired French teacher. It has a huge selection of Irish books and others. I picked up one on ‘Difficult to Translate Words and Phrases’ and had a chat with him about this. I had noted that French does not have a word for ‘iceberg’ and we agreed that had they remained in Canada for longer, they might have had one. He also told me that Irish Gaelic has no swear words and so use English ones. My other find was a Hungarian phrasebook which I have been looking for for a couple of months in preparation for our trip to Budapest alter this year. So far in both new and second-hand stores I had had no success. However, this shop had three different ones. I also spotted a book produced by another small society; there seem to be so many devoted to what appear to be minor interests. I had previously come across the Pylon Appreciation Society, but this was a book on British Piers published by The Piers Society which I had not heard of before. Along the wall outside the Millennium Forum is an Anthony Gormley sculpture. There were originally three but the others have ended up overseas.

To return to the station we crossed the Peace Bridge which was opened in 2011.

There is then a footpath/cycle route back to the station although some work was being done on part of it. We could have spent much more time here – there are several museums and plenty of culture. That will have to wait for another trip.

Trying out the new wheels: Rufford and Martin Mere


Having collected our new campervan last month we were keen to try it out before heading off on our exploration of the British Coast. We decided to go for one night fairly locally to visit somewhere we had not been to before and to revisit an old favourite. Rufford Old Hall is situated in Lancashire, not the part I walked through earlier in the year, but west of the M6. It is now owned by the National Trust having been built in 1530 and owned by the Hesketh family until 1936.

Later wings were added in the 17th and early 19th centuries. We were there not long after it opened and on a week-day, it was quiet. So much so that the room guides jumped on us as soon as we entered a room and were keen to talk whereas I was happy to look around in peace. They had a number of items of furniture, ornaments and paintings etc which had belonged to the family and had been returned to the house. They also had a collection of antique maps of Lancashire including some by John Speed and Robert Morden. Photography inside is only permitted in the Great Hall which has a fabulous carved roof visible from a window in the first floor drawing-room.

Outside there is the garden and woodland to explore. Volunteers were tidying up after the recent gales and torrential rain. Celandines and violets were in flower and bluebell leaves emerging in the woodland so there should be a good display in a few weeks time. We were very thankful that the weather had improved and the nearby Rufford Branch of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal was so still that the trees were reflected in it.

There is a cafe and a few shelves of pre-loved books but nothing I fancied. We spent the night in a nearby Britstop. This is a network of pubs and other places which once you have joined by buying the current year’s catalogue, allow you to park up for the night for free. We stopped at the Farmer’s Arms in Bispham and after enjoying a meal in the pub, settled down on a very misty and wet evening. The following day, the 20th March is the Spring Equinox and a super moon is supposed to be visible but the cloud made this look unpromising. The next morning was a pleasant surprise with clearing cloud and sun. Our destination was Martin Mere which is run by the Wildlife and Wetland Trust. We last visited several years ago in winter as many migrating birds stop off or stay here including 2000 Whooper Swans from Iceland. At this time of year they have all returned north. It is divided into two parts, one devoted to the nature reserve and the other houses endangered birds from around the world. In the nature reserve were many familiar birds including Mallard

a Black-Headed Gull

and a Shelduck Diving.

There were other geese, ducks and waterfowl in the distance. Some people had recently heard a bittern in the reeds. The last time we heard one was in 2003 on Barra but heard nothing today. There were so many other birds in the other half:
A red-Crowned Crane

An Avocet

Spring had indeed sprung as we had our first coffee sitting outside this year before heading home on a relatively quiet motorway for once.

A few days in Paris


St Pancras International is a very civilised station and I wish others were like it. Unfortunately, I was not able to enjoy it to the full as I became unwell and wondered if I was going to be able to make the trip. However, I managed to get things under control as we boarded the Eurostar and in just over two hours were at the Gare du Nord in Paris. The station has had a problem with expensive unlicensed preying on passengers, but we found it easy to follow the signs to the licensed taxi rank. Soon we were at our hotel where I rested and recovered. This is at least our fourth trip to Paris, so we have seen most of the sights and were happy to just wander. We are close to the Arc de Triomphe

so then walked down the Champs Elysee which has only two closed shops but lots of temporary fencing piled up from the recent Maillot Jeune demonstrations. We did see a few demonstrators a couple of days later near the Arc. The American Embassy was well-guarded.I went to Fauchon on the Place de Madeleine to do some shopping and passed by Le Village Royale, a small upmarket shopping and restaurant court off the Rue Royale which was today decorated with umbrellas

and displaying bronze sculptures by Dirk de Keyzer, a Belgian artist and sculptor.



Le Village hosts regular sculpture exhibitions. Returning along the riverside, statues were glowing in the sunshine and there were views over to the Eiffel Tower.


In the afternoon we walked to the nearest green space, Parc Monceau; which was busy with workers enjoying their lunch in the sunshine. The main gates are huge wrought iron and gold and the park is decorated with statues, ponds with a bridge and various old constructions, none of which are labelled. There are also playgrounds for children. Nearer our hotel was a street market:

And the Église de St Ferdinand

We met up with our friends late afternoon and enjoyed a meal in a nearby Corsican restaurant. Saturday was match day so after a morning walk under blue skies enjoying the buildings it was time to join the crowds on the Metro to the Stade de France in St Denis for the Scotland-France rugby match.

Scotland, probably predictably, lost. Waiting for the crowds to diminish we stopped for a glass of wine at a co-operative in the centre of town. It sold products made by local artists and craftspeople but today the café was holding a special afternoon celebrating a children’s book author and illustrator with some wine. The artist had designed the wine labels.

On Sunday we visited the Musée du Quai Branly which has a fantastic collection of art and culture from Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Our Eurostar tickets gave us 2 for 1 tickets and we spent a few hours inside.



Outside there are gardens with grasses and magnolia trees in bud. Walking back along the riverside in this unseasonable weather, we spotted some hammocks by the Seine.

All too soon it was time to return home.

We had seen plenty of armed police around the city but at the Gare du Nord the army were on duty. On the Eurostar I read that the first Café á Chien has opened in the Marais district. That will have to be on the list for another visit. I finished reading Adam Gopnik’s Paris and the Moon which has been sitting on my bookshelf since I found a copy in Washington DC in 2004. This trip was a good chance to revisit the New Yorker writer’s account of moving from New York to Paris in 1995 where he worked for five years and began to raise his family, observing the differences between the two cultures. It was interesting having made numerous visits to both France and the USA.

The new wheels


Before collecting our new wheels, we spent 10 days in Edinburgh. There were 2 Six Nations rugby matches on consecutive weekends which we attended with friends. The first one took place while there was still some snow on the Pentland Hills.

We met up with several friends and did some trip planning. One other thing I did manage to squeeze in was a trip to the City Art Gallery which had a couple of photographic exhibitions I had wanted to see for a while. The first was Robert Blomfield’s Street Photography which continues until 17 March 2019. He was a doctor but managed to pursue street photography from the 1950s to the 70s. It was only brought to an end when he suffered from a stroke in 1999. His son spent a lot of time sorting out the huge amount of film his father had at home.

The other photographic exhibition was ‘Scotland in Focus’ which included the galleries collection of Scottish photographs from the mid 19th century to the present day.

The final exhibition we saw was ‘Another Country’ which explored contemporary immigration to Scotland, including themes of integration, nationality and identity.
It included work by eleven leading artists from distinct ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds, all born or currently living in Scotland and using different media.

As photography is not allowed in the galleries, the images are from the gallery website. The exhibitions are free, and the gallery is very central and close to Waverley Station. The adjoining café provided an opportunity to top up the caffeine levels.
On our last morning we were up early to take the train to Leuchars and then a taxi to Anstruther where our vehicle, a van converted to camper was made. We then drove home and for once there were no major motorway problems. The seemingly eternal SMART motorway works on our nearest stretch of the M6 and are due to be completed soon. At last we could see some parts completed since the last time we drove back in early January. At the moments we are kitting out the van and will probably have a trial run in March before starting to tour the coast of Britain. This will be done in stages, fitting around other commitments but we will set off at the beginning of April, starting in Fife and travelling anti-clockwise.